Cystic fibrosis has always been the priority in my life. Unfortunately, that has held true even in my dating life. Dating can be complex, tricky and exhausting. Add a genetic disease to the mix and it can become impossible at times.
Being single into my late 20s, I've done my fair share of dating while managing the daily life of a person with CF. Of course there have been the normal bumps in the road. You do have to kiss a few frogs before you find Prince Charming, right? But I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that CF complicates finding “the one” beyond what the majority of my friends have had to deal with. I can't think of a single stage of any relationship that I've had where this disease hasn't played a major role.
The most common question I get on this topic is, “When do you tell them?” Everyone has different opinions on this, but I have approached it just like I have with any new person coming into my life -- immediately. I've found that the more upfront I am, the more at ease that person is to ask questions. And, of course, I prefer to answer those questions rather than have a person ask Google.
Let's be real, there are always the uncomfortable and extremely awkward questions, but I love having the opportunity to address them. I can't imagine being on the other side -- wondering and not knowing if, or how to ask -- or worse, having those very important questions go unanswered. I've been asked a range of them, too. “Are you going to die in your 30s?” “Is that why you're so thin?” “Oh, so that's why you cough so much.”
The most important thing I've done is to never get offended. A person doesn't know what they don't know and it's on me to inform them as best as I possibly can. It's really helped my relationships grow, and it puts a very honest expectation out there of what it's like to date me.
The biggest difference I've seen in my relationships than those my friends have is how I prioritize. I need balance in my life -- juggling staying healthy, but also doing what makes me happy. I found out early on that I need someone who encourages balance. As important as it is for me to know when to slow down, I need someone who can help me make that call and support me through the times when my life isn't exciting. On the flip side, I need someone who can encourage me to go out and do things while I'm healthy. I have been in relationships where my boyfriend embraced the challenge of CF and would step up when I couldn't. There also were those who couldn't figure out how to support me through the tough times without resenting missing out on something in their life.
Another … fun … experience has been taking a boyfriend to the doctor with me for the first time or having that boyfriend visit me while I am in the hospital. If you ever want to figure out what someone is made of, do this. It can either be one of the best things for your relationship or it will totally kill it. Either way, you'll know.
Luckily, this has mostly gone well. The ones who have made it this far have already passed a few tests along the way and I felt they were ready to dive in, head first, without a life jacket. This has not been something I've taken lightly. The doctors become a part of your life, they know you, and they ask the uncomfortable questions. Remember that you will have these conversations in front of someone other than your parents.
A boyfriend met my mother for the first time when I went to the hospital. He handled it well, but didn't make it much farther. I've also seen guys really step up to the plate. Once, after waiting hours to be released after an especially tough hospital stay, I was about to lose my mind. Seeing this, my then boyfriend calmly got up and left the room without saying a word. Ten minutes later, we were heading out the door.
Probably the most valuable lesson I have learned is that dating a person with CF isn't for everyone. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, the faster you figure that out, the more bullets you dodge.
One guy told me straight up that he couldn't date me because of my disease. It hurt and I was upset. But, he did me the biggest favor. I don't want to force a relationship with someone who isn't strong enough to handle my disease or its implications. I didn't waste another second on him. I moved on and tried to find someone who could handle it.
The good ones who really can handle the disease and fully grasp that role are hard to come by. I've also realized that even someone who can embrace the challenge of dating a person with CF isn't necessarily “the one.” It's a balancing act that -- for now -- I'll continue to figure out as I go.